When Jim Tressel leads his Ohio State team out of the tunnel for tonight’s opener against Marshall, he will embark upon what could be a record-setting season.
His Buckeyes are trying to equal the Big Ten record of six consecutive championships set by Ohio State teams from 1972 to 1977 while shooting for an unprecedented seventh straight victory over archrival Michigan. The proverbial icing on the cake would be playing for the national championship, making the program only the second in Bowl Championship Series history to play in four national title games.
The opening game also represents a personal milestone for Tressel as he becomes only the fourth man to begin a 10th season as head coach at Ohio State, joining John W. Wilce (1913-28), Woody Hayes (1951-78) and John Cooper (1988-2000).
Tressel seemed almost surprised when reminded he was approaching a decade as head coach of the Buckeyes.
“It’s gone pretty fast,” he said. “I guess that’s the way the world is today when we rush from one thing to another, but it doesn’t seem like 10 years. I will say this: It’s been a tremendous ride so far. We’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve also had a lot of fun.”
When Tressel was hired as Cooper’s successor in January 2001, he came to the Buckeyes after an ultra-successful 15-year stint as head coach at Youngstown State. He won 135 games and four Division I-AA national championships with the Penguins, and was named I-AA national coach of the year three times.
Before taking over the Youngstown State program, Tressel spent three seasons from 1983-85 as an assistant on Earle Bruce’s staff at Ohio State. That seemed the epitome of living a dream for an admitted lifelong Buckeye fan that grew up cheering for the team and listing national championship quarterback Rex Kern as a boyhood idol.
Still, Tressel admitted to some trepidation about taking over the OSU program and making it his own.
“I remember saying to my wife, ‘This is going to be a lot of work,’ ” he said. “Then I remember her saying to me, ‘Well, how long do you think it will last?’ and I said, ‘Wow, I don’t know. It would be a miracle if we could last 10 years.’ So, I guess it’s a miracle because here we are.”
In his previous nine seasons, Tressel has resurrected a program that had experienced a bit of a lull. Despite posting 43 victories and a pair of Big Ten co-championships between 1995 and 1998, the Buckeyes produced only a 14-10 record in Cooper’s final two seasons. Additionally, the team finished unranked in the national polls in both 1999 and 2000.
Coupled with the coach’s well-publicized 2-10-1 record against Michigan, a 3-8 bowl mark and rampant academic problems that threatened to strangle the program, university athletic director Andy Geiger fired Cooper following a 24-7 loss to South Carolina in the 2001 Outback Bowl.
The following days were ones of major transition as Tressel and his staff took over with only a few weeks remaining in recruiting season. Just a few days after his hiring, however, he forever endeared himself to OSU fans when he took the microphone during halftime of a men’s basketball game at Value City Arena and confidently stated, “I can assure you that you’ll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor.”
The unranked Buckeyes made good on their new coach’s guarantee by handing No. 11 Michigan a 26-20 upset loss the following November, marking the first OSU victory in Ann Arbor since 1987.
Even with that win over the Wolverines, the 2001 season was not without its hardships. There was a lackluster 13-6 loss at UCLA, a game postponed one week due to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11. There were also late collapses against conference opponents Wisconsin and Penn State, and another Outback Bowl defeat at the hands of South Carolina.
But the trials and tribulations of that 2001 season seemed to serve as a springboard as the Buckeyes were a team of destiny the following year. They won all 14 games – including seven by a margin of seven points or less – and captured the program’s first consensus national championship in 34 years.
As Tressel begins his 10th season with the Buckeyes, how much longer does the man who will turn 58 in early December want to keep coaching?
No one seems to know.
“I don’t think he has a set time on how far he wants to go,” older brother and OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel said. “My opinion would be that when he feels all of the other outside things begin to weigh on him he might lose interest in coaching.
“But right now, I don’t see any indication of that. He is still just as involved as ever in what’s going on. He’s not standing in the back, watching his staff do the work. He’s still engaged, involved, out there going 100 mph like he always has.”
In agreement was OSU offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, who is beginning his 15th season as a member of Tressel’s staff – five at Youngstown State and each of the previous nine with the Buckeyes.
“We’ve never had that kind of discussion,” Bollman said. “Never sat down and discussed how long it would last or how long any of us wants to go on. Go play. Those are the discussions we have. Just go play.”
One thing seems certain. Tressel has repeatedly said he has no desire to follow in the footsteps of Penn State’s Joe Paterno or former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden and coach into his 80s. Likewise, he seems to have no interest in approaching Hayes’ school record of 28 seasons as head coach.
When asked at Big Ten Media Days in early August when it was safe to begin comparing his record with the Buckeyes to the legendary Hayes, Tressel had a quick answer: “Never. First of all, I’m not going to be here for 28 years, so you can’t get to that level unless you’ve paid your dues that long.”
Perhaps 28 years is out of the question, but does the coach think he has another 10 seasons in him?
“Ten more? Maybe,” Tressel offered with a grin. “If it goes as quickly as the last 10.”
** Ohio State kicks off its 121st season of intercollegiate football tonight against Marshall. The Buckeyes have won 31 consecutive home openers, not tasting defeat since a 19-0 loss to Penn State in the 1978 season opener.
** Tonight’s game marks the first weeknight home contest since the Buckeyes defeated Wyoming, 24-10, on Aug. 28, 1997. That game was also played on a Thursday.
** OSU head coach Jim Tressel has a career mark of 18-5-1 in season openers, including a perfect 9-0 with the Buckeyes. The last time he walked off the field with a loss in an opener was 1995 when Kent State handed Youngstown State a 17-14 defeat.
** The Thundering Herd are led by first-year coach John “Doc” Holliday. Holliday knows the feeling of victory over Ohio State. He was associate head coach as well as safeties coach on Urban Meyer’s staff when Florida rolled to a 42-14 victory over the Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.
** Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are 25-2 at Ohio Stadium vs. nonconference opponents. The only blemishes – three-point losses to No. 2 Texas in 2005 and No. 3 USC last season.
** Ohio State is working on a streak of 53 consecutive regular-season victories over unranked nonconference opposition. The last time the Buckeyes lost in the regular season to an unranked foe was a 42-10 loss at Pittsburgh in 1988.
** OSU also has a 54-game home winning streak against unranked nonconference opponents. You have to go all the way back to a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982 to find the last unranked nonconference team to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.
** Tressel has been extremely successful against first-year head coaches while at Ohio State. His record is 15-1 against rookies with the only loss coming last season in a 26-18 upset at Danny Hope-coached Purdue.
** Not only is Tressel successful against first-year head coaches, the games are usually not close. In those 15 wins, the Buckeyes’ average margin of victory is 25.3 points.
** Tressel is 3-3 lifetime against Marshall. He is 1-0 at Ohio State and posted a 2-3 mark against the Herd when he was at Youngstown State.
** Marshall has lost 10 consecutive road openers. The last time the team won a road opener was a 13-10 at Clemson in 1999. The Herd went on to record a perfect 13-0 record that year that included a Motor City Bowl victory over BYU.
** The Buckeyes are 11-1-1 all-time against teams currently in Conference USA. They are 7-1-1 against SMU (although the teams haven’t played since 1978), 2-0 vs. Rice and 1-0 against Houston and Marshall. The last time the Buckeyes and Herd got together wound up in a 24-21 victory for OSU in 2004. Mike Nugent kicked a 55-yard field goal on the final play of the game to account for the winning margin.
** Marshall is 0-5 all-time against teams from the Big Ten, including a 51-14 loss at Wisconsin in 2008. The Herd is 0-2 against Penn State and 0-1 vs. Michigan State and Ohio State.
** Second-ranked Ohio State is the second highest ranked team Marshall has ever played. The Thundering Herd faced top-ranked Florida to open the 2001 season and absorbed a 47-21 loss in Gainesville.
** The Herd is 3-13 all-time against ranked opponents and has lost eight in a row to ranked teams. Marshall last defeated a ranked opponent Nov. 20, 2003, when they went into Manhattan and upset No. 6 Kansas State, 27-20.
** The Buckeyes are 6-3 in home night games and 33-16 all-time in nighttime affairs. Under Tressel, OSU is 2-3 in Ohio Stadium at night and 15-10 overall.
** OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor is the first Big Ten player since 1999 to return the season after winning Rose Bowl MVP honors. Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne was the last and he went on to win the 1999 Heisman Trophy.
** Pryor is the first Big Ten quarterback since 1997 to return the season after being named Rose Bowl MVP. The last was Ohio State QB Joe Germaine.
** Ohio State is 391-107-20 in Ohio Stadium since the facility opened in 1922. That is a .774 winning percentage. All-time in Columbus, the team is 534-154-35, good for a winning percentage of .763.
** Over the past eight seasons, the Buckeyes have enjoyed a 52-5 record at home, good for a .912 winning percentage. Since 2002, that is the fifth best home mark in the Football Bowl Subdivision (better known as Division I-A). Only Boise State (50-0, 1.000), USC (45-3, .937), Oklahoma (54-5, .915) and TCU (43-4, .915) have done better over that time frame.
** OSU has recorded 10 wins or more in each of its last five seasons. No team in Big Ten history has ever had six straight seasons of at least 10 victories.
** The Buckeyes are the only FBS team to have finished in the top 10 of the final Associated Press writers’ poll in each of the last five years.
** Ohio State completed the 2000-09 decade as the winningest team in the Big Ten – by far. The Buckeyes were 102-25 during the decade; Wisconsin was a distant second at 86-43.
** Congratulations to Ohio State’s newly minted captains – offensive lineman Bryant Browning, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, linebacker Ross Homan, linebacker Brian Rolle, running back Brandon Saine and wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. The last time the Buckeyes had six captains was in 1982 when linebacker Glen Cobb, defensive lineman Jerome Foster, offensive lineman Joe Lukens, linebacker Marcus Marek, running back Tim Spencer and wide receiver Gary Williams helped lead the team to a 9-3 record that included a 24-14 win over Michigan and a 47-17 pounding of BYU in the Holiday Bowl.
** This season marks the 40th anniversary of the tragic airplane crash that decimated the Marshall football program. Seventy-five people, including head coach Rick Tolley, most of his staff and nearly all of the Thundering Herd roster, were killed Nov. 14, 1970, when the plane carrying them back to Huntington followed a 17-14 loss to East Carolina crashed into a hillside just short of the airport runway. Each year, Marshall conducts a Nov. 14 memorial service on campus and the Memorial Fountain’s water is shut off for the winter.
** The Big Ten Network will have the telecast of the tonight’s game. The announce team will feature Eric Collins with the play-by-play, Chris Martin with color analysis and Charissa Thompson with sideline reports. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host Miami (Fla.) in one of the most eagerly anticipated matchups of the young season. The game will be telecast by ESPN with the unusual kickoff time of 3:40 p.m. Eastern.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
** Thirty-two years today, preseason No. 1-ranked Alabama opened the 1978 season with a 20-3 win in Tuscaloosa over No. 10 Nebraska. The Crimson Tide would go on to win the first of back-to-back national championships, the final two in the legendary coaching career of Paul “Bear” Bryant.
** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Sept. 1, 1984, BYU began its march to the national championship with a 20-14 upset at No. 3 Pittsburgh. Cougars QB Robbie Bosco threw for 325 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown to Adam Haysbert with 1:37 remaining in the game. The victory vaulted BYU from unranked to No. 13 in the national polls. The contest was also the first regular-season college football game ever televised live by ESPN.
** Other noted games that happened during this week in history: On Sept. 2, 1989, Southern Mississippi quarterback Brett Favre threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, including a 2-yard score with 23 seconds remaining, to lead the Golden Eagles to a 30-26 win over No. 6 Florida State; on Sept. 3, 1983, seventh-ranked Florida State barely escaped a season-opening loss, scoring a late touchdown to squeeze past unranked East Carolina, 47-46, in Tallahassee; on Sept. 4, 1993, Penn State scored its first Big Ten victory with a 38-20 win over Minnesota; and on Sept. 5, 1981, Lamar University engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, beating defending Southwest Conference champion Baylor, 18-17, in Waco. Lamar kicker Mike Marlow booted a 42-yard field goal with three seconds left to account for the winning points. It was the first time in history that a Division I-AA school had beaten a I-A school.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** Congratulations to Georgia State, which plays its inaugural football game tonight against Shorter (Ga.) in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. The Panthers will be led by former Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky head coach Bill Curry. Four other schools also kick off their inaugural seasons in 2010 – Notre Dame (Ohio) College and Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) College of the NAIA, Lamar University in Texas (resurrecting its program after a 21-year lull) and Division III Pacific University (Ore.).
** Congratulations are also in order for Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, who recently signed a contract extension through 2016. Beamer enters the 2010 season with 229 career victories, tying him with Tressel for second-most among active Division I-A coaches. Joe Paterno of Penn State is atop that list, of course, with 394.
** Penn State running back Evan Royster heads into the 2010 season needing 481 yards to break Curt Warner’s school career rushing mark of 3,398 yards.
** If Texas Tech fans are lamenting the dismissal of former head coach Mike Leach, it hasn’t showed up at the box office. The Red Raiders established a new school record by selling 46,546 season tickets for new head coach Tommy Tuberville’s inaugural season.
** TCU also set a new school record for season ticket sales but the Horned Frogs have sold just north of 17,000. That is for a team that is 53-11 since 2005 and ranked No. 6 in this year’s preseason AP poll. (By the way, capacity for Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth is 44,008, and TCU recently announced a $105 million renovation project “to better enhance the football fan experience.”)
** Here is a little college football trivia to share with your friends. Name the only nine states without at least one Division I-A football team. The answer comes later.
** The late Merlin Olsen will be honored Oct. 23 during Utah State homecoming festivities when a larger-than-life-size bronze statue of the former two-time All-American tackle is unveiled. Additionally, the playing field inside Romney Stadium will be renamed Merlin Olsen Field. Olsen, who went on to a successful action career after a Hall of Fame career with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, died March 11 after a bout with cancer. He was 69.
** Among Olsen’s many life accomplishments was the fact he was the first NFF National Scholar-Athlete in history to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Olsen was inducted in 1980, two years before receiving his bronze bust in Canton.
** In case you wanted to know, the first BCS standings of the 2010 season will be announced Oct. 17.
** The nine states without at least one Football Bowl Subdivision school are Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont.
Since it’s a new season, and a new decade for that matter, we thought we would retire the old crystal ball and get a new one. Part of the reasoning is because the old developed some cracks last year on the way to a 121-37 finish with the straight-up picks and a terrible 64-79-2 showing against the spread.
In case you’re keeping score at home, that makes the career numbers 1,403-426 straight up (76.7 percent) and still fairly well above water against the spread at 684-630-19 (good enough for 52.0 percent).
As I say every year, this is just for fun. I make more picks based on how I feel that what I actually know. Nevertheless, off we go for what we hope will be an outstanding season that has us all basking in the Arizona sun come January.
Here are the games we’re watching this week:
No. 15 Pittsburgh at Utah: Lots of story lines here. The Panthers are coming off their best season under Dave Wannstadt and their first 10-win since 1981. They open 2010 on the road at Utah, looking to kick off its final season in the Mighty Mountain West before joining the Pac-10. This game will likely hinge on how well Pitt’s first-year starting QB Tino Sunseri adjusts to a hostile crowd. After all, the Utes have an 18-game win streak going in Rice-Eccles Stadium … Utah 27, Pittsburgh 17. (8:30 p.m. ET, Versus)
No. 14 USC at Hawaii: Lost amid a scandal-filled summer is the fact that the Trojans still have a pretty good team. Matt Barkley returns for his sophomore season at quarterback, the running back corps remains loaded and the team should have a decent enough defense since the head coach’s father, Monte Kiffin, is the coordinator. The Rainbows have never fared well in this series, going 0-6 lifetime and surrendering 61 or more in each of the last three meetings. Hawaii will put some points on the board but there will also be some turnovers as the Trojans eagerly made an opening-night statement … USC 38, Hawaii 14. (11 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Marshall at No. 2 Ohio State: We have been talking about the next national championship since 2002 and the Buckeyes believe they have what it takes to make a run at the crystal football this season. There was no questioning the talent of last year’s team, but it had a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. How else could you explain the same team stumbling and bubbling its way against Purdue and then thoroughly throttling an excellent Oregon team in the Rose Bowl? Consistency is what usually wins national championships – that and nearly every break that goes your way – and we’ll see beginning tonight what we have in the 2010 Buckeyes. If they simply appear to go through the motions, the jury will still be out. If, on the other hand, they manhandle the Herd like they should, well then we may be on to something … Ohio State 41, Marshall 10. (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN)
Miami (Ohio) at No. 4 Florida: Tim Tebow is gone, the offensive line is banged up and Urban Meyer is singing the blues. Not that anyone is paying much attention. John Brantley takes over at quarterback and speedster Jeff Demps returns at tailback boasting a school-record average of 7.6 yards per carry for his career. Meanwhile, the RedHawks have eight starters returning on offense, including QB Zac Dysert, but they were borderline inept on that side of the ball last season during a 1-11 campaign. The Gators have won 20 straight season-openers and their last 13 at Florida Field. Tough to see how Miami ends either of those streaks … Florida 45, Miami 7. (12 noon ET, ESPN)
Connecticut at Michigan: The big question in Ann Arbor is whether Year Three of the Rich Rodriguez Era will be the final one. Rodriguez’s team still has question marks all over the field from starting quarterback to the installation of a 3-3-5 alignment on defense. The Wolverines used to make up for any deficiencies by intimidating opponents in the Big House. Well, the Big House is even bigger this year thanks to an extensive renovation program but Appalachian State broke the home-field mystique three years ago, so don’t expect the Huskies to play scared. In fact, with 16 starters returning from last year’s 8-5 team – and all five losses came by margins of four points or less – look for UConn to register the first Upset Special of the season … Connecticut 20, Michigan 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC Regional)
Purdue at Notre Dame: It’s a changing of the guard in South Bend as Brian Kelly takes over for underachieving Charlie Weis. There is no doubt Kelly will breathe new life into the Irish offense but what can he do about a defensive unit that surrendered points by the boatloads last year? Well, for starters Kelly brought defensive coordinator Bob Diaco with him from Cincinnati and the Bearcats were 10th in the nation last year in sacks. There will be growing pains, of course, but there will be with the Boilermakers, too. They break in new quarterback Robert Marve, the Miami (Fla.) transfer who missed all of last season following knee surgery, and need to find a replacement for star tailback Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL in spring ball … Notre Dame 31, Purdue 17. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
San Jose State at No. 1 Alabama: The good news for the Spartans is that the Crimson Tide begin defense of their national championship without Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday. The bad news? ’Bama still has Trent Richardson at tailback and some believe he’s even better than Ingram. Add that to the fact San Jose State finished 119th out of 120 Division I-A schools in rush defense last season – not to mention 118th in scoring offense – and you have the ingredients for a blowout … Alabama 38, San Jose State 0. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 24 Oregon State vs. No. 6 TCU: There aren’t too many teams coming off a 12-1 season that are looking for redemption. The Horned Frogs are one of those teams. Their 17-10 loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl left a sour taste in their mouths and the only way to get it out is to go undefeated again, earn another BCS bowl bid and win the game this time. The first hurdle to that goal will be getting past the Beavers in this game scheduled to be played in Cowboys Stadium. Oregon State boasts a high-flying offense led by brothers James and Jacquizz Rodgers, but TCU welcomes back 24 defensive lettermen from a year ago when the Frogs were the No. 1 team in the nation in total defense … TCU 34, Oregon State 20. (7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 12 Wisconsin at UNLV: The Badgers have had problems from time to time in this series, but it’s doubtful they will work up much of a sweat this time. With a potent offense led by QB Scott Tolzien and RB John Clay, Wisconsin should be able to play ball-control against a team that ranked 112th nationally against the run last year. The Badgers are also working on a streak of 24 straight wins over nonconference opponents in the regular season … Wisconsin 38, UNLV 20. (11 p.m. ET, Versus)
No. 3 Boise State vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech: The marquee game of the opening weekend takes place at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., and features the season’s first matchup of top-10 teams. The Broncos are eager to prove that last year’s 13-0 season was no fluke. They have their sights set firmly on the national championship this year. Meanwhile, the Hokies are just trying to break from the gate cleanly. They have lost their last two openers, including last year’s 34-24 loss to Alabama. Virginia Tech would seem to have an advantage in the trenches, and playing at the home of the Washington Redskins is more of a home advantage for the Hokies. But Boise always seems to find a way to win games like these. Therefore … Boise State 24, Virginia Tech 21. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Pittsburgh at Utah (-3); USC (-22) at Hawaii; Marshall at Ohio State (-29); Miami-OH at Florida (-35); Connecticut (+3) at Michigan; Purdue at Notre Dame (-11); San Jose State at Alabama (-37½); Oregon State at TCU (-13); Wisconsin at UNLV (+21); Boise State (-2) vs. Virginia Tech.
Enjoy opening weekend, have a safe Labor Day holiday and we’ll see you next week.
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